Researcher who called plagiarism “the worst type of fraud” retracts paper for…plagiarism

arq brasAs a reporter on the police beat many years ago, one of us (Adam) used to hang out with a press officer whose desk at the station had the following sign: “Uma boca fechado não recolhe nenhum pé.”

At least, that’s what it would have been had we been in Rio. In Palmer Park, Maryland, the sign read: “A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot.”

A group of Brazilian researchers has retracted their 2009 article on gut bacteria for plagiarism — but not before one of them decried such behavior as the nadir of scientific misconduct.

The paper, “Translational research into gut microbiota: new horizons in obesity treatment,” appeared in the Arquivos Brasileiros de Endocrinologia & Metabologia. It was written by Daniela M. Tsukumo; Bruno M. Carvalho; Marco A. Carvalho-Filho; Mário J. A. Saad, the last of the University of Campinas, in São Paulo. Saad has collaborated with Rui Curi, who has had two papers retracted and four corrected but last summer was cleared in a fraud investigation.

As the retraction notice states:

The authors of the above manuscript would like to apologize and retract it because in some paragraphs there are verbatim and unquoted sentences from others texts, although most of them, but not all, have been referenced. A corrected version of this review will be available in the next volume of Arq Bras Endocrinol Metab.

In a November 2011 interview in Folha de S. Paulo, Saad waxed concernedly about the problem of plagiarism, which he called the “worst type of fraud.”

The now-retracted paper has been cited 12 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The retraction notice ends with the line:

This retraction confirms the integrity of papers published in Arq Bras Endocrinol Metab.

Given Saad’s experience, we wonder if the editors won’t end up wishing they’d used a phrase with a shorter neck.

33 thoughts on “Researcher who called plagiarism “the worst type of fraud” retracts paper for…plagiarism”

  1. ” the worst type of fraud.”? Come on. If you plagiarize real data and results, the main problem is redundancy. The worst problem is fake data in the literature.

    1. I strongly disagree with Boris’ assertion. Whether data were plagiarized outright or covertly self-plagiarized, such data were never collected to begin with and, therefore, do not exist; they are fabricated, not from scratch, but fabricated nevertheless.

      1. Miguel, I would disagree. The plagiarized data would presumably be reproducible, unlike completely made-up data. I suppose that plagiarized fabricated data would be the worst type of fraud. We are splitting hairs here, however, since both behaviors are highly despicable.

        1. Hello Iron Chemist, you make a very interesting point, but I doubt very much whether the distinction is as clear-cut as you suggest (e.g., plagiarized data reproducible; fabricated data not reproducible). In my view, the question of whether completely made up data are irreproducible or not depends on what types of data are being fabricated and by whom, as well as on a number of other factors. Surely, if the fabricated is derived from a fundamentally new methodology, set of conditions, or phenomenon for which no prior data exist to serve as a model then perhaps such data would be constructed with such an erratic, albeit subtle, pattern that others would be unable to reproduce them. I say ‘perhaps’ because fabricated data, even under the above conditions, are seldom made up in a complete vacuum. Note that in many of cases of data fabrication, such data are conceptually consistent with existing theory and prior research otherwise they would not have been published. And, although I cannot think of a specific case at the moment, I am willing to be that some fabricated data have been at least partially ‘reproduced’ to some extent, especially if the research deals with conceptual replications of empirically well-established phenomena. By the same token, plagiarized data may or may not be reproducible depending on whether the original phenomenon under study turns out to be real or not. I am operating from what is probably faulty memory at the moment, but I seem to remember that when the first reports of cold fusion came out in the late 80s (?) several labs reported data consistent with a cold fusion effect. To be clear, I am not aware of any cases of plagiarized data from that affair, but it is conceivable that, at the time, someone could have plagiarized some of the early data suggesting cold fusion, which would have then turned out to have been erroneous (i.e., type I error).

          1. 1) “Surely, if the fabricated is derived from a fundamentally new methodology, set of conditions, or phenomenon for which no prior data exist to serve as a model then perhaps such data would be constructed with such an erratic, albeit subtle, pattern that others would be unable to reproduce them.”

            Please provide three concrete examples to support this claim.

            2) “I say ‘perhaps’ because fabricated data, even under the above conditions, are seldom made up in a complete vacuum. Note that in many of cases of data fabrication, such data are conceptually consistent with existing theory and prior research otherwise they would not have been published.”

            Please provide three concrete examples to support this claim.

          2. JATdS, an example of no. 1 would be any manuscript whose data looks suspicious to the referees and goes no further. An even better example would be published papers whose data were immediately questioned by readers familiar with that particular literature, and which later were verified as being fraudulent. For examples of no. 2, look for cases of published articles that have been in the public record for a while but were later retracted for data fabrication because they were outed as a result of whistle blowing or some other factor unrelated to the actual data.

      2. slow down folks, in this case what we have is not plagiarized data, but plagiarized text. (2 paragraphs) And what about self-plagiarism? Sometimes redundancy is good. If I take a methods section and copy it verbatim instead of simply referencing it (assuming what I did is the same), strictly speaking, it’s plagiarism, but I’m doing the community a favor, because the reader doesn’t have to tunnel through another layer of publication in order to see exactly what it is I did. I would go so far to say as self-plagiarized introduction paragraphs are no big deal.

        1. Completely agree. Often, I have the sense that the self-plagiarism lynch mob is made up by people who have nothing better to do with their time!

          1. I think I have to partially agree with you. It is not uncommon for editors to request authors to write the full methodology of an already published paper, so in some respects editors may also be partially responsible (we would need an in-depth retrospective analysis by scientists of their peer reviewer reports). If one’s own, and if indeed verbatim, then quotation marks and the original reference are required. That will prevent the “mob” from calling it self-plagiarism and protect scientists from such a label and having a guest appearance on RW. If from another paper, then quotation marks if the text is not that long, the original source defined and, in instances where considerable text is used, the copyright permission of authors and/or the journal’s editor/publisher. That will prevent the peer community from calling it plagiarism “and protect scientists from such a label and having a guest appearance on RW”. Where I disagree with you relates to text in the introduction or discussion. Most often, this may result from laziness, linguistic deficiency, or the lack of novelty. But none of these are valid excuses. In these cases, the authors have the responsibility of re-phrasing things differently to avoid being labelled plagiarism or self-plagiarism. And of course to add the source of their ideas.

            There are two recent papers on self-plagiarism, both of which have some theoretical flaws and deficiencies. I am now contesting the content of these papers with the respective journals because post-publication peer review is essential to provide a constant critique the content of papers that may be lacking in some fundamental assumptions in order to advance the conversation on the issue:
            1) Samuel V Bruton. Self-Plagiarism and Textual Recycling: Legitimate Forms of Research Misconduct. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance, Volume 21, Number 3, 4 May 2014, pp. 176-197 (Taylor and Francis)
            2) Liviu Andreescu. Self-Plagiarism in Academic Publishing: The Anatomy of a Misnomer. Science and Engineering Ethics September 2013, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 775-797 (Springer)

          2. JATds, I agree with you. The main zone of ambiguity is the introduction, I think. Part of the introduction is old stuff, background that has little to do with the particular hypothesis being tested. So, I don’t see a problem copying it with a proper citation. If myself, or somebody else, wrote a really concise summary of the necessary background, I don’t see why it is bad to reuse it. After that, the reader can move on and understand what else you are doing in the current paper. After that piece, you state your hypotheses, and cover whatever else needs to be covered. Good summaries of something should be treated like shared blocks. Yes, the original author gets credit, but they should be reused as blocks because there is no point in rewriting them. Sorry if publishers have issues with this, they are the ones who are being unreasonable and they are fighting a losing battle on this.

  2. I think the saying “A closed mouth gathers no feet” would be better translated to Brazilian Portuguese as “Uma boca fechada não pega nenhum pé”, however there already is the equivalent “Em boca fechada não entra mosquito”.

    This case is illustrative of a local discrepancy between what is said and what is done.
    Written word and speeches are always very compelling. Anyone reading the guidelines issued by CNPq against scientific misconduct might actually believe that misconduct will be immediately investigated and severely punished. Actually reporting misconduct in Brazil is both difficult and dangerous, as anonymity is illegal, communication channels are hard to find, and usually whistleblowers are the ones facing immediate enquiries and sanctions.

    On the other hand, Curi was investigated and cleared by a commission lead by one of his co-authors, and other cases mentioned in this and other blogs were never investigated. As for politics, it is worth noting that ex-president Collor, impeached for corruption in the 90s, is today one of the leaders of the National Commission for the Truth, aiming at investigating government documents.

  3. I am glad you entered this sentence into the article because it shows you didn’t hide details; “Saad has collaborated with Rui Curi, who has had two papers retracted and four corrected but last summer was cleared in a fraud investigation.”

    Yet, this sentence also shows that a retraction is not proof of fraud. It shows a retraction is a shadow of doubt until proven. Is the jury still out on this one? Retraction does not equate fraud… yet…and with medical journals it’s really a mish mash depending who is running the show and who is financing the often fraudulent clinical trial information that is, at times, doctored via the PR machine. And all this proves is we need all the data put out there without the medical filter and just let us decide. Let the open conversation begin.

    1. I could only find about a dozen retracted papers on Scielo and only one on Redalyc. Could such low numbers be saying something about correcting the literature in South America, including Brazil?

      1. From my experience Brazilian journals are remarkably resistant to issue corrections, what to say of even looking into claims of serious publication issues. There is a general view that the editors themselves are to be blamed if anything wrong is published, thus journals try not to publicise any admissions of mistake. It is common to find in the periodicals’ guidelines self-protection statements like “authors are solely and completely responsible for the scientific content of published papers”. This fear of being blamed for the published error is also behind the awkward statement “This retraction confirms the integrity of papers published in Arq Bras Endocrinol Metab.”

        It will be a day to remember when some Brazilian periodical editor will openly respond to serious issues appointed in open sources such as Pubpeer.

  4. From the same first author and PI:

    PMID 17519423

    Loss-of-function mutation in Toll-like receptor 4 prevents diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance

    Figure 3B:

    Bands 1, 3 and 7 are the same

    Figure 3C:

    Band 2 from p-Akt and band 2 from AKT are the same

    Figure 3D (IR-beta – total):

    Bands 2 and 5 are the same. Bands 3 and 6 are the same

    Figure 5E (IKK-beta – total):

    Bands 1 and 3 are the same. Bands 2 and 4 are the same

    Figure 8E (IKK-beta – total):

    Bands 2 and 5 are the same

  5. Google it some passages and found original sources:

    “The human gut contains an immense number of microorganisms, collectively known as the microbiota. This community consists of at least 1013 citizens, is dominated by anaerobic bacteria, and includes ≈500-1,000 species whose collective genomes are estimated to contain 100 times more genes than our own human genome”


    “Enterobacteria and bifidobacteria represent early colonizers, although differences in gut microflora composition and the incidence of infection occur between breast- and formula-fed infants”


    “elevated levels of Fiaf trigger the production of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator, which is known to increase expression of genes encoding regulators of mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation; and (2) the activity of adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase, an enzyme that monitors cellular energy status, is increased”


    Whole paragraphs fully copied, some even without citation. Plagiarism, indeed.

    1. The picture seems complex, but contradictory.

      Brazilians frequently publish in potential predatory open access publishers. Lots of them publish in Academic Journals (a search using Brazil as the key-word revealed just over 4000 results, mostly valid papers written by Brazilians and not just erroneous links to unrelated papers as one would get with Yahoo or Google searches).

      Other minor ones, like Academia Publishing, result in only 21 hits with

      Several publish in ANSInet, which oddly is listed by Scopus, Thomson Reuters and in which the COPE logo appears on the web-page footer (this has gotr to be the biggest lauch of the day! Select any journal from this list and you will see the COPE logo proudly advertised on the bottom of each page)

      What benefit would Brazilians gain from serving on the editor boards of journals like this?

      One of the risks they face is to be met with publishers that sudddenly “disappear”, as with Intellect Journals: (leaving one to wonder who ran off with all the open access fees, and in what car?)

      You may ask, what is the link between your comments and retractions? Quite simple. Please observe, for example, how potential predatory open access journals make retractions:
      At Global Advanced Research Journals, you get multiple X’s, for exmaple:
      No accountability, no record, no knowledge of the authors who committed the fraud, or what the actual crime was.

      The strangest thing is that Brazilian researchers then proudly display their papers at the Lattes system by CNPQ. Which begs the question: although we all recognize the importance of publishing open access, why would any government be allowing so many of their researchers to damage the country’s reputation by allowing them to publish in such academically disreputable journals (many – but not all – on Beall’s list are really suspect and dangerous pits of academic fraud). Should the Brazilian government be allowing Brazilian scientists to be wasting research funds paying predatory publishers for open access? What is the true cost of this damage?

    2. I have three points to make regarding potential predatory open access publishers and Brazilian scientists.


      I often find a lot of Brazilians publishing in journals that Jeff Beall calls “predatory” open access publishers. For example, a search on the Academic Journals web-site will reveal approximately 4000 hits to studies conducted by Brazilian studies published in journals published by Academic Journals, which is listed on Beall’s 2014 list of “predatory” open access publishers:
      We should not forget that several journals published by Academic Journals, including their flag-ship journal, African Journal of Biotechnology, lost their impact factors back in 2012, for fraudulent manipulation of references, i.e., excessive self-citation, meant exclusively to game the impact factor. I suspect that Thomson Reuters will be re-evaluating this publisher and that, given the lack of transparency by Thomson Reuters and Academic Journals, that it will regain its impact factor this year. If so, this will be a negative step back for academic justice. Although scientists are free to publish wherever they please, does it make sense for the Brazilian government to allow their scientists to publish in open access journals of questionable academic performance? Last year alone, I received over a dozen spam invitations by this publisher that usually start off with “Dear colleague”… They simply attach the files, request you to complete peer review in 2 weeks, you are neither acknowledged publically, or remunerated. Yet, they will then suck 450 or 600 US$ from authors. Now I can understand why they are referred to as predatory open access publishers.


      One of the risks about these types of suspect publishers is that retractions are not correctly managed, or archived. For example, look at these two retractions that have been made by journals:
      In both these cases, papers were retracted, but no information was provided about the authors, the original title; the water-marked stamped PDF is not available. The reason for retraction is not available.
      That makes these types of publishers extremely dangerous, because there is zero transparency and clearly suspect management.


      What makes Brazilian scientists want to become part of editor boards that are really suspect? Do they honestly believe that such positions will enhance their curriculum vitae? For example:

      1. “Should the Brazilian government be allowing Brazilian scientists to be wasting research funds paying predatory publishers for open access?” — I think I have a very unsatisfactory and hard answer to this question. This is my impression as a Brazilian. Brazilian government fundamentally doesn’t really understand or care about the details of what is a periodical, impact factor, etc. They care about fast results, and not for Brazilian science, but for incoming investment to the government.

        There have been claims that we ought to meet a certain % in number of worldly published papers to get more money from the international fund. This is the kind of message our government understands,simple as + = $, and this has been transmitted downstream.

        It is easy to publish crap in crappy journals, and whole careers of Brazilian “1As” have been made, quite proudly, on this. Those who aimed at low-to-medium profile journals will be the most successful in the long run, as they will get no significant retractions or whistleblowers nor the crappiest venues. And some of those guys collected over 200 papers of soft mumbo-jumbo in their CVs. This is will be impossible to correct…

        1. CR, your last paragraph is EXTREMELY important. I like your interpretation of the lower-to-middle-tiered journals. I feel exactly the same way. That is exactly where I am seeing a crisis developing in the biological sciences. Well, I guess then you have answered my questions all in one. It is sad to learn this attitude about the Brazilian government. Their flashy, powerful web-sites really do give a false impression. The Indian Government seems to fit the other foot. To be metaphoric, the biggest problem then is that we have an ideological sink-hole forming in which the BRICS, except perhaps for South Africa, seem to be racing towards the bottom of the pit, in a frenzied rush to meet the quantitative levels published to date by their US and EU counterparts. The problem is, the sink-hole hasn’t caved in yet. The result: a messy literature unfolding, flooded with fraud and bad science. And the BRICS is supposed to be the next economic block of power-houses. If you have ever been to a sink-hole-prine zone you will understand what I’m talking about. It’s scary to see one of those things. And the worst thing is when there is one, there is bound to be dozens or even hundreds that frm in the same zone. And the scientific literature is becoming exactly like this: a lanscape with pot-holes and sink-holes everywhere where retractions are now starting to suck in the literature. We are in serious trouble. By we, I mean science, publishing, society and the economy if part of the economic model for profitability is based on intrinsic fraud and dishonesty, veiled in marketing and pseudo-PR. When it comes to facts, it’s all “pao, pao, queijo, queijo”.
          PS: Sorry about my duplicate-like post above. I thought the original had not posted correctly, so I tried to re-think the information (I swear, it’s not a case of duplication… or self-plagiarism!!!) (chuckles)

          1. “pao, pao, queijo, queijo” — well, it seems I have been lecturing a real expert in Brazilian culture, after all!.. 🙂

            Yes I do think that modern science reeks of business/marketing interests, with their impact factors, publication records, and other numbers and trendy graphs. Still I believe that the own nature of scientific research can remedy this, in the sense that investors will not keep injecting money into processes not returning the desired product. This is valid for hard science, in serious institutions. Even traditional researchers of nature (not Discovery Channel lovers) are very demanding about the preciseness of information produced. The quicker trust on scientists is diminished, the more effort will be needed to recover it. I think this is something we can contribute with, on this blog.

            Unfortunately this does not work well in Brazil as the demand is not mainly on hard, functional science, and the general public (the real investors) usually does not understand where problems lie, thus I am afraid Brazilian science might be doomed by wrong values, “santos do pau oco”… You bet 90% of people discussing and managing science in Brazil do not read this blog, mainly for lack of the cultural background for adding to this discussion.

          2. For what is worth, you should all know that Brazil won the bid to host the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI), which will take place in Rio in 2015. For the global research integrity community to have endorsed Brazil to host this conference, they must have recognized that country’s efforts at emphasizing research integrity in its own scientific community. I don’t doubt that there are areas of weakness in Brazilian science, as surely there are gaps in other countries’ institutions of science. But, it seems to me that the upcoming WCRI in Rio will present a unique opportunity to air the criticisms some of you have made of Brazil’s science along with proposed meaningful solutions. Whether or not you are Brazilian (I am not, though I have more than a great affinity toward Brazil), why not consider this option? Doing so could benefit both, Brazilian science and global science.

          3. I have been to two previous meetings in Brazil about publication ethics. Both took place in Rio de Janeiro, where it is my personal impression that indeed there is more open and sincere discussion about good practice in lab and writing, at least inside UFRJ.

            However also I think, in line with things I mentioned before, that these events are highly political in nature and that there is a huge distance between what is written/claimed from what is practiced.
            It would not surprise me to find 1A researchers presiding this event by giving out tear-bringing speeches about integrity inside the lab, yet only to later turn up in RW for some retracted paper with image manipulation while brandishing lame excuses and legal threats. The main organisers of these past meetings included researchers with very little publication record who are given to give out talks — often quite moving talks — about ideal writing/publication practices. One of the most active organisers justifies most plagiarism in Latin America as deriving from mere naiveness and difficulties with English, thus it is no wonder to me that most of the local audience enjoys hearing that. I have seen few if anyone initiating true relevant (yet unsettling) discussions like if such and such case exposed elsewhere would ever be officially investigated; why was Dr. X cleared out by a local investigation; what exactly should one do after finding misconduct, etc, etc.

            Putting it bluntly, if I happen to take part in WCRI in 2015, I would only talk my mind out if I was not anymore part of Brazilian academia, or very close to retire. Otherwise, it is best to be there to hear and say only nice things to the foreigners, and then proudly stamp the event on Lattes CV.

            Brazil was also chosen to host the World Cup and Olympic Games, yet certainly not based on quality (even existence) of sports infrastructure or security. I do appreciate that the world gets more interest in my country, so maybe some will see beyond the facading propaganda.

        2. Can’t agree more CR… Moreover, the politics for “insertion” are not helping much more, just puting the whole bunch of north and northeast research groups in the one way ride bus (we don’t have proper trains) to the predatory publishing world.

  6. Oh indeed that was a typical reply! I have also complained about issues (mainly plagiarism) on published papers in Brazilian journals, and most of them will either ignore or ask the authors “Did you commit any plagiarism?” and then agree with whatever they say. I got once a reply claiming that “authors say there are no signs of plagiarism” to which I answered by pasting the copied sections from all copied sources, and in return a got a direct email from the authors with typical “who in the hell are you, will sue you”, whawhawha. Editors take no responsibility for published material.

    Anyway, nowadays my tendency is to completely ignore editors and all the rest. Science is about communication among scientists. Exposing the irregularities to good, serious, scientists (e.g. with Pubpeer) should be good enough for the long run of scientific development…

      1. My impression is that link no.1 is highly political in the sense that it is boasting on the fact that one meeting on ethical guidelines was held in Brazil involving different countries and resulting in a formal document, while emphasising on that the Brazilian agencies funded them to come and that one could have been a Brazilian editor (?). I think the guidelines could have been presented in a different manner.
        Link no.2 deals with guidelines produced by COPE on how to make retractions. I really think the major issue on retractions in Brazil still lies in a stage before that — it is how negative claims on papers should be made (and by whom) and how they should be received and dealt with. My impression is that writing about retraction procedural details is quite comfortable in an environment where retractions seldom occur, usually under much pressure and with the support of the authors themselves.

      2. This is just a thought: The journal in question is a member of COPE. And, yes, COPE has no ability to enforce its guidelines, However, it may be worth contacting COPE about this particular case so that they can perhaps encourage the “editors to ensure that cases are investigated”, It seems to me that if a journal is unwilling to follow an association’s guidelines, it may run the risk of being kicked out of that association. Given the need for international visibility and the prestige associated with membership in international organizations like COPE, it might be worth contacting them and let them know about what is happening.

        1. I think you have now stated one exact truth about COPE. It’s not really about ethics. It’s about establishing this mega-size agglomeration of powerful publishers, then snowballing all the smaller ones into believing that this mega-“membership” is somewhat valid, and useful. The “fame” and “prestige” factor have now fully blinded scientists into not seeing COPE for what it really is: a business masqueraded as a charity. For what? I still have yet to clearly understand what COPE brings to a publisher. You say absolutely correctly, “COPE has no ability to enforce its guidelines”, i.e., an euphemism for it’s useless and powerless. Worse yet, if you are not a member of this exclusive club, your voice is not heard. Trust me, I know from experience. COPE shows double-standards and a lack of transparency. It is too intertwined with the executives of publishers and interest groups to be impartial. It is riddled with conflicts of interest, and has recently become an agglomeration of ethics-related news and an advertisement board for unspecific cases brought to it by its members. Why not simply convert COPE into a free-for-all information board or blog-style location for the scientific and publishing community. I mean, seriously, ask yourself, if COPE was really transparent, wouldn’t it have a comments board? I am always astounded how people get sucked in by these marketing gimmicks, flashy web-sites, and thinking that paying money for some sort of “ethical protection” is somehow in itself ethical. Maybe the UK Government would better use their funding on paying COPE to function freely than getting involved in double dipping in the OA industry ( Without a doubt, London is the global center of financial fraud (, and any gimmicks that can be created to generate new financial revenue, like COPE, masqueraded as a charity, will be welcomed by the British Government.

  7. A picture is emerging here regarding this group. In addition to the apparent problems in the 2007 Diabetes paper listed above by commenter “Morgoth”, a comment was made at one of their papers in PLoS Biology last summer (, regarding problems with the western blots.

    Nothing was done – apparently nobody at the journal noticed that the comment raised some serious questions about data integrity. Recently the poster of that comment contacted me, and I prepared some images to illustrate the problems and posted them at PubPeer ( and PubMed Commons (, as well as emailing the editors of the journal.

    In the course of the examination, in addition to the original 4 problems, 3 further apparent duplication events were found. It’s an interesting case because the paper received a lot of publicity in the mainstream media – they liked the idea that obesity/insulin resistance are communicable diseases.

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